Featured Writer: Poet Natalie Young’s Craft Essay “The Question of May Swenson”

/, FEATURED, Featured Writer, FEATURED WRITERS, LITERARY ARTS, Nonfiction/Featured Writer: Poet Natalie Young’s Craft Essay “The Question of May Swenson”

Featured Writer: Natalie Young

 

The Question of May Swenson

Poet Natalie Young

May Swenson was a renegade. Nearly thirty years after her death, Swenson’s work is still perceived as wild and wild is not conducive to the norms of academia. Her poetry is diverse in content and form and hard to define. Which may be part of why her notoriety has not held up over time to some of her peers, such as Elizabeth Bishop. Rozanne Knudson, Swenson’s partner for the last twenty-three years of her life, said Swenson continually pushed the envelope, distancing herself from any specific school of poetry (Knudson “Love Poems” 11). She rejected requests to be included in lesbian anthologies, writing in a letter to Joan Larkin, “I have not sent you any poems for inclusion in the proposed anthology—nor would I do so—anymore than I would submit any writing to a book titled, for instance, ‘The Heterosexual Women’s Poetry Anthology.’” This quote shows concern for the constraints and fallacies sexuality and gender tags may imbue. Though, ultimately, she wasn’t interested in any classifications being placed on her work.

While shying away from trends and labels, she often wrote using common topics, including every-day details in uncommon ways. Her poems in the following discussion have subjects of animals, childhood, love, death, and nature—none of these subjects are peculiar; it is how Swenson crafts these poems that makes the work unique.

Swenson’s poetry carries certain themes and tendencies, attempting to relate humans, nature, animals, and science—to find the commonalities and synchronicities. Repeatedly she accomplishes this by creating a blur in voice or vision between the speaker and what the speaker observes or interacts with, often an animal. This paper will hone in on two poems, “Scroppo’s Dog” and “The Centaur.” Several other poems that focus on the human as animal will also enter the discussion. Part of Swenson’s trademark is being curiously primal, equalizing the non-human and human world

Swenson’s poem, “Scroppo’s Dog” tells a story between the speaker and the neighbor’s dog. This piece deviates from her usual self-defined schemas, creating a conversational, narrative with four stanzas of varying lengths. Swenson’s objective for this poem requires a more flexible structure, one where the reader can follow along easily and have time to mull over the narrative and its purpose.

“In the early morning, past the shut houses,
past the harbor shut in fog, I walk free and
single. It is summer—that’s lucky. The whole
day is mine…”

The poem’s second line informs the structure. The speaker is “free” and claiming the day as her own. In the next breath, “At the end of our village I stop / to greet Scroppo’s dog, whose chain is wrapped / around a large dusty boulder.” The image offers sharp contrast to the poem’s form and speaker’s freedom. The dog is not free and will never be single—chained to a rock, his owner’s yard, and his owner. “His black coat / is gray, from crouching every day in the gravel of Scroppo’s yard—a yard by a scrap-filled pond…” Swenson makes it clear that the dog’s life is confined to an ugly space by specifying his gray coat that should be black, the gravel the dog must lie in, and the dismal “scrap-filled pond,” “trash in the weeds,” and “oily, broken cement.”

Scroppo “deals in wrecked cars and car parts.” If the narrative focused on Scroppo, the name may have been too obvious—Scroppo deals in scrap. However, because the poem focuses on Scroppo’s dog and Scroppo the man doesn’t appear, Swenson creates anonymity for the animal, but identifies his captor; the dog is a prisoner, stripped of freedom and individuality. The character that is present through the entire poem has no real identity, but the man hocking trash does.

“Scroppo” could be a dog’s name, a name that, in fact, most people would associate with a canine before a human. As Swenson provides added detail, the fact that the only person telling the animal’s story doesn’t know his name becomes more poignant.

“…I remember
him, years ago, as a big fierce-looking pup.
It may have been his first day chained there,
or shortly thereafter, that he first greeted me:
his eyes big nuggets shooting orange sparks, his
red tongue rippling out between clean fangs—
fangs as white as lilies…”

The word “greeted” is significant; it implies the dog wanted to interact and be friends with the speaker. This first meeting is critical, especially the vivid, clean imagery Swenson uses to describe the “pup.” The dog is new, full of vigor. Swenson indicates this by having “orange sparks” shoot out of his eyes, and a red tongue “rippling out” of his fresh, white teeth—images in stark contrast to the grays described before. Swenson’s choice to use “sparks” for the dog’s eyes and “lilies” for his teeth is unusual. Normally a creature’s teeth would be likened to something active or intimidating, not a soft, fragile flower. Whereas, animal eyes, are often described as intense or soft or revealing, but not as dynamic as “shooting orange sparks.” These word choices provide a juxtaposition of what the reader expects and what the dog is. The sparks indicate fire and energy, but also anger and destruction. The lilies offer growth, beauty, fragility, and purity. Both the lily and the sparks are things that will die—flowers have a short season before the petals wilt and fall away, and shooting sparks lose their heat and turn to ash quickly. Swenson carefully chose these atypical characteristics to foreshadow and add to the pathos.

“…black fur erect and gleaming, the dog
rushed toward me—but was stopped by his chain,
a chain then bright and new. I would have met
and stroked him, but didn’t dare get near him,
in his strangled frenzy—in his unbelief—
that something at his throat cut short
his coming, going, leaping, circling, running—
something he couldn’t bite through, tripped him…”

Swenson produces intensity in the stanza with the animal’s desperation. It is the first moment the creature realizes his freedom has been taken away, causing a “strangled frenzy.” The scene is visceral with the dog’s strangling, body parts, and “fur erect.” He is frantic “in his unbelief.” The word “unbelief” is sad and immediate. The young animal can’t fathom how “something at his throat cut” him “short.” The syntax of these words give the impression there’s a knife to his throat; the panic is high enough it seems the pup’s life is in danger. Even the chain is given sheen to further juxtapose the past and present. Swenson doesn’t just write that he is stopped by the chain, but instead informs us of exactly what the dog realizes he can’t do anymore: “coming, going, leaping, circling, running.” This string of verbs illustrates the impact of betrayal and loss of freedom.

The third stanza reverts to the present.

“Now, as I walk toward him, the dog growls,
then cowers back. He is old and fat and dirty,
and his eyes spit equal hate and fear.
He knows exactly how far he can strain
from the rock and the wrapped chain.
There’s a trench in a circle in the oily dirt his paws
have dug…”

Swenson contrasts the scene of newness and discovery in the second stanza with the “old and fat and dirty” in the third. The dog is full of animosity and no longer “greets” the speaker with a “joyful bark” but with growls and trepidation. The creature’s restricted existence is fully captured with a trench dug from circling the rock.

The speaker directly addresses the connection between the dog and herself in the beginning of the fourth, and final, stanza. “I’ve never touched Scroppo’s dog, and his / yearning tongue has never licked me. Yet, we / know each other well.” The two are both “Subject to the seasons’ / extremes, confined to the limits of our yard, early fettered by an obscure master…” The dog’s yard and master are tangible, while the speaker’s are metaphorical.

The poem ends:

“…Each midday,
when the firehouse whistle blows, a duet
of keen, weird howls is heard, as, at the steep
edge of hopelessness, the muzzle pointed,
ears flat, eyes shut, Scroppos’s dog forlornly
yodels in time to the village siren sounding noon.”

This ending could be humorous or an annoyance: a dog howls every day at the firehouse whistle. Instead, this scene is touching. Swenson sets it up with the young, fresh dog versus the old, shabby dog and his loss of freedom versus the stated liberty of the speaker. The dog’s one autonomy is the song he sends out each afternoon, but even his singing is scheduled and dependent on the firehouse whistle. The use of the word “yodels” instead of “sings” or “howls” adds to a sense of regimen and restraint. Only humans really yodel and while yodeling is singing, it has certain qualities and structure not present in regular song. Swenson emphasizes this with a combination of unstressed and stressed syllables sitting next to each other, ending the poem’s song, “yodels in time to the village siren sounding noon.” It is as though the last line yodels with the dog.

With “Scroppo’s Dog” Swenson creates a tableaux of existence; the poem evokes sorrow through a captive, mostly ignored animal. In youth there is newness, innocence, and trust. Such things are inevitably spoiled by disappointment and the confining actions of repetitive, everyday life.

Swenson relates her life to the speaker, who relates her life to the dog’s. Swenson was fettered by day-to-day conformity and obligation; she was also female and lesbian, desirous to be original and free of these classifications. Swenson responded to a request from an anthologist compiling a women-only collection, “I don’t think there is a feminine poetic consciousness—nor is there a masculine one. I even hate the designation of ‘woman poet.’ How silly it would sound to say ‘man poet.’” (Knudson and Bigelow 106). Swenson crafts equality between human and beast. She felt she herself was an animal and said, “Animals aren’t human beings, but humans beings are animals” (qtd, in Crumbley 138-139).

This notion of humans as animals is emphasized in her most anthologized poem “Question.” The first two lines read, “Body my house / my horse my hound.” Here the speaker addresses her body directly, which is peculiar, since we usually address others and describe our self (Doty 197). The structure of this is also strange. These lines, and the poem as a whole, contain no punctuation, except for the question mark that ends the poem, emphasizing at the beginning and end that it’s not only a question, but also, it’s all in question.

The speaker speaks to her body, calls it her house, horse, and hound. Not only do these words sound nice together with alliteration and assonance, they are also strong in imagery and metaphor. The speaker’s physical body is a house, somewhere for the spirit or soul to dwell and rest in this life. The body is a horse, a means of transportation, an animal of beauty, work and toil. The body is a hound (a step further than the metaphor of speaker and dog we saw in “Scroppo’s Dog”), a hunter, a pet, a companion. It’s peculiar to call a human body all of these things, but each item works as a metaphor. And it is no coincidence that two out of three are animals. Swenson was raised in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS) or as the religion is more commonly known, Mormon (Knudson and Bigelow 9). Swenson went to church with her family every Sunday, until she moved out of the house at age twenty-one. She didn’t criticize the religion but confided to her college friends, “It’s not for me—religion. It seems like a redundancy for a poet” (34). The LDS religion teaches that a human being is a spirit living in a human body and the body is full of the desires of the flesh, just like an animal (Andersen, par. 1-2). In this poem we see pieces of that theology and we see it in Swenson’s tendency to relate humans to animals. By the end of this poem the speaker asks:

“when Body my good
bright dog is dead

How will it be
to lie in the sky

without roof or door
and wind for an eye

With cloud for shift
how will I hide?”

Mormons believe that the spirit is separated from the body in death (par. 1). It seems Swenson held on to this idea, but instead of celebrating the afterlife, she questions what she will be with the loss of the physical self. In the above lines, the body, (note the capital “B”), is separated from its animal self, “good / bright dog,” and the speaker questions how she will rest, how will she see without eyes, how she will hide without her faithful companion. The speaker creates a direct correlation between rest, vision, and peace and her physical body, which is at least two-thirds animal.

Human body as animal is accentuated in Swenson’s poem “Forest,” “Suddenly I go, / flick-eyed, hurrying over fur / needles that whisper…My neck-hairs rise.” In this excerpt the speaker is described with cat-like attributes, “flick-eyed” and “neck-hairs rise.” For the larger part of the poem a forest is depicted where nearly all of the scenery is feline. The first two couplets illustrate what Swenson does throughout:

“The pines, aggressive as erect tails of cats,
bob their tips when the wind freshens.

An alert breath like purring stirs below,
where I move timid over humps of hair,”

 

Swenson is not coy with this metaphor of forest as feline, “erect tails of cats” and near the poem’s end, “the feline forest grins.” The intriguing intellect of this poem comes with the two details that liken the speaker to a cat. With this move, Swenson crafts a poem that has a smaller cat escaping a larger, predatory cat. This is, again, an unusual move. “Forest” has a metaphor inside a metaphor, the same metaphor working on both the natural world and the human in the natural world. The forest is a cat; the speaker is a cat. The smaller cat has little chance of escaping the larger cat, but they share a common bond, a lineage. With this poem, Swenson employs a complicated circle of nature as animal, human as animal, and thus human as nature. She implies if/then statements pushing the reader to see the equality in these things.

The amalgamation of man and the natural world emerges again with “The Centaur,” the story of a ten-year-old girl who plays in a field with her imaginary horse and upon returning home, is chided by her mother. By Swenson’s own admission, the poem is autobiographical, the girl, the first-person speaker, is Swenson (qtd. in Crumbley 139).

A centaur is a mythological creature with the head, torso, and arms of a human and the body and legs of a horse. Swenson is not only creating metaphorical connection between man and animal, but also a physical image of melding. This title sets the reader up for the dichotomies Swenson is about to provide: man/animal, ego/id, male/female, wild/domestic, and heterosexual/homosexual.

The poem takes us back to a summer when the speaker was ten and every day would “go out to choose / a fresh horse from my stable,” and then a stanza break in the middle of the sentence, before we find out that the stable is a “willow grove.” Here Swenson installs the first moment of ambiguity about the horse and the speaker. We are ready to see the speaker with an actual horse, but following the break it’s revealed that the horses are willows, horses only in imagination.

The young girl proceeds to create a better horse than what the “stable” provided.

But when, with my brother’s jack-knife,
I had cut me a long limber horse
with a good thick knob for a head,

and peeled him slick and clean
except a few leaves for the tail,
and cinched my brother’s belt

around his head for a rein…

In the fourth stanza, Swenson begins to drop clues about gender ambiguity. The speaker is going out daily to ride fake horses using her brother’s knife to create a horse. She is also using her brother’s belt for the horse’s rein, because she wears dresses, not slacks. These small details, lay the foundation for Swenson’s questioning of gender roles, both in this poem and in her life. “Did her clothes make her a girl? May asked herself this many times” and said ‘I wish I were covered with fur like an animal. Then I’d dare go anywhere.’” (Knudson, Wonderful Pen 18).

Despite her dress, the girl mounts her horse “up the grass bank to the path, // trot along in the lovely dust / that talcumed over his hoofs, / hiding my toes, and turning // his feet to swift half-moons.” Here as the girl rides her horse through dust, Swenson creates ambiguity between who is the horse and who is the speaker with the dirt covering “his hoofs,” but “hiding my toes” and “turning his feet.” The speaker’s toes are covered, but it’s the horse that’s trotting. Of course, we already know the horse is imaginary, but Swenson is purposely blurring the line between animal and person, master and pet. She does this with image-packed description, “talcumed,” followed by “swift half-moons,” which Swenson chose to describe horseshoes as well as the outline of human feet.

The speaker is the horse, the horse is the speaker, but before Swenson strengthens the meshing of animal and human, she throws in, “The willow knob with the strap / jouncing between my thighs / was pommel and yet the poll / of my nickering pony’s head.” This is a male image, a gender-bending image. Swenson creates homogeny and more ambiguity with the merging of female, male, and horse.

The next six triplets focus on merging speaker and horse.

My head and my neck were mine,

yet they were shaped like a horse.
My hair flopped to the side
like the mane of a horse in the wind.

My forelock swung in my eyes,
my neck arched and I snorted.
I shied and skittered and reared,

stopped and raised my knees,
pawed at the ground and quivered.
My teeth bared as we wheeled

and swished through the dust again.
I was the horse and the rider,
and the leather I slapped to his rump

spanked my own behind.
Doubled, my two hoofs beat
a gallop along the bank,

the wind twanged in my mane,
my mouth squared to the bit.
And yet I sat on my steed

As in “Question,” the speaker’s body is the horse. The verbs are wild, human and horse flopping, swinging, snorting, skittering, rearing, pawing, quivering, slapping, spanking, galloping. They insist and strengthen the explicit metamorphosis. Not only are these verbs instantly related to a horse’s behavior, they are also pushing against confinement; they are untamed. These stanzas read quickly, in a rhythm like a horse’s gallop. The verbs trot in close proximity, building the horse’s movements and the speaker’s freedom. Reading these stanzas we feel the speaker about to lose control, but just as she might slip into chaos, she reins herself in by slapping the horse’s rump, spanking her own. As soon as the speaker squares her mouth to the bit, she gains control and separates herself from the beast, “And yet I sat on my steed // quiet, negligent riding, my toes standing the stirrups, / my thighs hugging his ribs.” As soon as we read, “And yet…” we are pulled out of the mad gallop. Swenson slows the pace of the poem down along with the speed of the horse, and the speaker is back in human form, guiding the horse home.

At a walk we drew up to the porch.
I tethered him to a paling.
Dismounting, I smoothed my skirt

and entered the dusky hall.
My feet on the clean linoleum
left ghostly toes in the hall.

Once home, the horse remains real to the speaker, she “tethered him to a paling. / Dismounting…” but now she is concerned about her appearance. By having the speaker immediately straighten herself up, Swenson pulls the gender issue to the forefront. The speaker didn’t smooth her shirt, she smoothed her skirt.

Restraint and confinement are further heightened by the “dusky hall,” which is opposite the environment the girl just left. The speaker’s feet leave “ghostly toes” in the hall, remnants of nature and the horse she was one with just moments ago. The speaker’s sense of limitation and freedom is fulfilled for the reader with the following interaction between the girl and the mother:

Where have you been? said my mother.
Been riding, I said from the sink,
and filled me a glass of water.

What’s that in your pocket? she said.
Just my knife. It weighted my pocket
and stretched my dress awry.

Go tie back your hair, said my mother,
and Why Is your mouth all green?
Rob Roy, he pulled some clover
as we crossed the field, I told her.

The mother questions and the speaker casually answers, finishing the poem with typically working-male language, not proper or ladylike, “Been riding…filled me a glass of water…pulled some clover…” The gender melding continues when the mother asks “What’s that in your pocket?” and the girl responds that it’s “just my knife.” The image is phallic—not only is she claiming her brother’s knife, it weighs her pocket down and stretches it awry. A metaphor of gender crossing and questioning, the brother’s knife is literally skewing the girl’s dress and, in turn, her gender identity (Hogue 123).

The poem is constructed of triplets, with the final stanza being four lines. Three lines, being the first prime number and odd, is not as stable as a two- or four-line stanza. The girl has been on an adventure, riding her horse, being her horse, mingling with nature, leaving femininity behind, and now she has returned home to a much more predictable environment, governed by rules and roles. By allotting four lines, Swenson gives it more weight, which stabilizes and domesticates the final stanza.

In this last stanza, the speaker is told to go and fix her hair; the mother is trying to get the girl to return to or establish a state of femininity, to contain her wildness. But with the final question, “Why is your mouth all green?” we are surprised. The girl so fully adopted the horse’s characteristics, she literally ate clover. This gives the speaker the last word and allows her to maintain a piece of liberation, of being more than just a girl.

Most of Swenson’s poems have an adult speaker, where the sexuality and gender issues raised in “The Centaur” are more straight forward, but still play with animal metaphors. With “Poet to Tiger,” Swenson constructs a relationship between the speaker and a tiger. This tiger is living with the speaker as a lover/companion. In the first section of the poem ‘The Hair,’ the reader is introduced to the partially domesticated tiger.

You went downstairs
saw a hair in the sink
and squeezed my toothpaste by the neck.
You roared. My ribs are sore.
This morning even my pencil’s got your toothmarks.
Big Cat Eye cocked on me you see bird bones.
Snuggled in the rug of your belly
your breath so warm
I smell delicious fear.
Come breathe on me rough pard
put soft paws here.

The lover is portrayed as somewhat violent, but also loving as the speaker “snuggled in the rug” of the tiger’s “belly,” and later in the poem, wakes the speaker “every hour with sudden / growled I-love-yous.” This peculiar relationship illustrates the dichotomy of pain and love typical of a lengthy relationship, especially in a situation where the couple lives together. Swenson emphasizes the small things that get on people’s nerves—the hair in the sink, tooth marks on pencils, bland cooking, grains of sand in the bed. These small, perturbing things are stressed, while the fact that the lover is a tiger is downplayed. What becomes important is love, the reality of the relationship, and that despite all the talk of what the tiger is doing, good and bad, the speaker says she is “not complaining I’m saying I’m / living with you.”

This crazy couple is a metaphor for relationships; additionally, Swenson has revisited a predatory cat, as in “Forest.” The speaker this time is human and the lover is animal. As Swenson avoids gender pronouns throughout, the question and uncertainty of gender roles emerges with the loaded juxtaposition of the tiger. It takes on the more masculine role, because of its force and size, but at the same time, any feline is typically tied to female. With this duality of metaphor and lack of gender specification, Swenson creates, as with “The Centaur,” an ambiguity of gender and sexuality and, once again, emphasizes the animal in the human.

“Little Lion Face” is another love poem that plays with the metaphor of the lover as the natural world. The poem describes the speaker’s interaction with a dandelion, but it becomes clear the dandelion is not just a dandelion in the third and forth stanzas:

Now I’m bold
to touch your swollen neck,
put careful lips to slick
petals, snuff up gold

pollen in your navel cup.
Still fresh before night
I leave you, dawn’s appetite
to renew our glide and suck.

Swenson writes of the dandelion: “succulent blooms…streaked flanges of your silk / sunwheel relaxed in wide / dilation.” The poem is striking in sound with a wide use of assonance and consonance, as well as Swenson’s adept use of rhyme in lines one and four and lines two and three of each quatrain.

The relationship of the speaker and flower is clearly erotic, with the speaker addressing the flower directly and images of sexual intercourse. Swenson likens the speaker’s lover to a flower, a flower that is likened to a lion in the title and first line of the poem, “little lion face.” As witnessed earlier, it’s a metaphor within a metaphor and again, the metaphor of a predatory cat. She incorporates “…metaphors that double and multiply whatever she turns her eye to” (Mitchell xx).

“Little Lion Face,” like “Poet to Tiger,” refrains from using gender identification and, in fact, purposely instills gender ambiguity through imagery, thus returning to the question of gender roles and sexuality. “Put careful lips to slick / petals,” is construed as female genitalia. While “your shaggy stem / sticky on my fingers,” and “your / undulant stem to suck,” conjure male parts.

Swenson’s insistent use of indistinct gender, nature, humans, and animals urges the reader to see a deep connection in all of these things, particularly that “human beings are animals.” Her metaphors transform humans into beasts, beasts into humans, and each back again, implying that man cannot live without nature or animal and vice versa.

Her metaphors of equality span an array of topics. Swenson’s body of work is varied in structure, style, and subject matter, and is anthologized in many dissimilar places. Swenson was a poet of broad talent and tactics, who wanted her work to be wide-spread and free classification. Swenson’s poetry follows rules she set up for herself, often idiosyncratic. Swenson continually pushed traditional poetry: creating found poetry; questioning and applauding science; experimenting with language, punctuation, anaphora, and word space; writing an entire book, Iconographs, focused on concrete poems. These varied and invented poetic structures decreased her ability to be labeled.

Walking through several poems we see Swenson’s apt craft, which breaks demarcations in gender, sexuality, species, and the feral versus the domestic world. Despite the merit and ability of her work, why, as Robert Hass says, is Swenson “a wonderful and not very well-known poet?” (Hass, par.1). Why isn’t there more academic discourse concerning her work? Why is she not renowned like many of her contemporaries, when many of her contemporaries applauded her? She is often called “a poet’s poet;” Rozanne Knudson writes in The Wonderful Pen of May Swenson, “Her poems made friends with poets. Each day the mail carrier brought May their good comments. For example, Anne Sexton wrote, ‘May, I am one of your fans. There are few poets writing today with all our verve, originality, sense of detail and sense of rhythm’” (104). Sylvia Plath wrote in her journal, “Read the six women poets in the ‘new poets of England and America.’ Dull, turgid. Except for May Swenson & Adrienne Rich…” (315). Harold Bloom places two of May Swenson’s books in his The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages and says she ranks with Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop as one of the three best women poets of the twentieth century (Appendix). She won numerous awards including a Guggenheim Fellowship, a MacArthur Fellowship, a Bollingen Prize for Poetry, and was nominated for the National Book Award five times. So why did it take so long to have her collected poems published?

While Swenson’s work does not fall into a category or school, she wasn’t an outsider, not really. She was the chancellor of the Academy of American Poets from 1980–1989, attended writing retreats, and was friends with a number of poets and other artists. She kept in close contact with her family, despite distance and separation from their faith. She grew up with a large family in the rural town of Logan and moved to New York City in her early 20’s; she lived the remainder of her life in the Eastern U.S., but wrote of both the East and West. Making her neither an Eastern nor a Western poet. Swenson may have fallen into a lesser-known status because she didn’t belong to a specific school or region of poetry and doesn’t have one particular following. Or maybe it’s because no one from her home state stepped up to claim or champion her until the relatively recent activities of the May Swenson Project, based in her hometown but receiving support from critics and poets throughout the United States, such as Mark Doty, Alicia Ostriker, and Ted Kooser. She received her bachelor’s degree and an honorary doctorate from Utah State University in Logan. Oddly, at one time Utah State rejected donations from her estate.

Whatever the reason for May Swenson’s lack of literary celebrity, her work raises readers’ curiosity and is full of her renegade spirit. Susan Mitchell writes in the foreword to Swenson’s posthumous book Nature: Poems Old and New, “My first response to these lines was, What a strange thing to say! And yet feelings articulated are ones I recognize in myself: a love of the wild and the free, a joy in the still untamed” (xvii).


Works Cited

Andersen, Wilson K. “Spirit Body.”  Encyclopedia of Mormonism.  Vol. 3. Lightplanet.com.  1992.  Macmillan Publishing Company.  29 April 2008.

Bloom, Harold. The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages.  Appendixes.New York: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1994.  21 April 2007.  Interleaves.  24 April 2008.

Crumbley, Paul and Patricia M. Gantt, eds.  Body My House: May Swenson’s Work and Life.  Logan: Utah State University Press, 2006.

Crumbley, Paul. “May Swenson and Other Animals.” Crumbley and Gantt 138-156.

Doty, Mark. “‘Question’ and More Questions: Two Shells for May Swenson.” Crumbley and Gantt 195-204.

Hass, Robert.  “Poet’s Choice.” 13 Sept. 1998. The Washington Post.  28 April 2008.

Hogue, Cynthia.  “Material Girl.” Crumbley and Gantt 120-137.

Knudson, R.R. and Suzanne Bigelow.  May Swenson: A Poet’s Life in Photos.  Logan: Utah State University Press, 1996.

Knudson, R.R.  “The Love Poems and Letters of May Swenson.” Crumbley and Gantt 11-26.

Knudson, R.R. The Wonderful Pen of May Swenson. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1993.

Kukil, Karen V., ed. The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath.  New York: Anchor Books, 2000.

Mitchell, Susan.  Foreword.  Nature: Poems Old and New.  By May Swenson.  New York: Mariner Books, 1994.

Reece, Spencer. Letter 5 May 2008.

Russell, Sue.  “A Mysterious and Lavish Poet: How Things Continue to Take Place in the Work of May Swenson.”  Kenyon Review 16.3 (1994): 128-39.

Swenson, May.  In Other Words.  New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1987.

Swenson, May.  New and Selected Things Taking Place.  Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1978.

 

 

About the writer:
Natalie Young is a founding editor for the poetry magazine Sugar House Review, based out of Utah. She received a BFA in art from Utah State University and an MFA in creative writing/poetry from Lesley University. By day, she works as an art director for an ad agency, which can be both harrowing and strangely rewarding. The poems published in Open are part of a manuscript that mixes factual scenery and history with speculative fiction, in order to explore peculiarities in human nature, culture, and environment. Poems from this series have been published or are forthcoming in Green Mountains Review, The Midwest Quarterly, Rattle, South Dakota Review, Terrain.org, Dark Mountain, Drunken Boat, Pilgrimage, Spillway, and others. Natalie is left-handed, half Puerto Rican, and a fan of the Muppets and mustard.

Portrait Image: Courtesy Natalie Young.

By | 2018-11-18T14:19:01+00:00 November 18th, 2018|Academic, FEATURED, Featured Writer, FEATURED WRITERS, LITERARY ARTS, Nonfiction|